Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Thousand Words On 30 Days; My Exclusive Analysis Of Legislature 06', Plus: Our Take On Big Bill's Speech Today At Noon On KNME-TV 

Try as we might, we cannot dig up significant opposition or conspiracies brewing beneath the surface that would derail the major points of the legislative agenda that Big Bill has been laying out. Checking with the Senior Alligators of La Politica turns up a few Movidas in the making, but this 30 day short session could be a slam dunk for the state's peripatetic chief executive if he doesn't overreach.

"We know where we are starting and probably finishing. There may be a few surprises in between, but this is one in which it appears the Governor's script will largely stick," analyzed a Senior Republican Alligator who is a veteran of two decades of Roundhouse watching.

So what about the predicted feeding frenzy over the historic surpluses? Why no major fights over all that money, or will they develop during the session?

"Most of the capital outlay (construction projects) proposed by the Governor are things the legislators also want. Even though he has already committed the lion's share of the $1 billion, there is still plenty for the legislators to divvy up, and with all 70 state representatives up for re-election, it is enough to keep them on board," explained our high-ranking Gator.

And he didn't even mention the surplus for the General Fund now a mind boggling half billion and still growing as a result of record oil and natural gas prices.

Senate Dems will hold a news conference following the Guv's State of the State. Let's see if they have any surprises.


The Spaceport ($125 mil over three years) has won the support of GOP U.S. Senator Pete Domenici and the R's in the Dona Ana county state delegation. The D's are on board. This one is ready for liftoff, but there will be a fight down the road over raising local taxes to help finance it.

The $290 million for new schools in the fast growing suburbs of ABQ and Las Cruces is also looking good, although Big Bill is taking no chances and telling parents to contact their lawmakers. Some are saying an equal amount of money has to be put up for other NM schools to stay within legal boundaries. That could spark fireworks.

Even the nearly $400 million dollar controversial commuter train has not been derailed. With the incredible amounts of money washing over Santa Fe, voters seem sunny about its prospects and lawmakers can be expected to toe the line. Most of the money to start it up has already been set aside.

And how about the semi-controversial pre-kindergarten program, the darling of Light Guv Diane D? It won $5 mil last year. Now the Guv is asking for $10 mil as he dubs this the "Year of the Child." How can lawmakers say no even if they have questions about its effectiveness? There is so much money that even programs without definitive outcomes are going to get a chance to prove themselves. Besides, the House rewrote this one to its satisfaction last year.

Some insiders thought the late 05' special session in which Senators rose up and forced higher rebates for taxpayers was a sign of further trouble to come for the Fourth Floor. But in retrospect, it looks more like a political error on the part of the Guv who underestimated popular support for tax refunds, rather than the beginning of a widespread palace coup. Maybe there will be cries for more tax cuts from the Senate Dems that could again test the Guv's political skills.

Strangely, as the R's probable Guv nominee, Dr. James Damron, advocates more tax relief, GOP Reps at the Roundhouse have been silent as a door mouse. Could all the prospective pork for each of their districts be keeping them at bay, or will they start the tax-cutting mantra when they breathe the light air of the City Different? (Big Bill is proposing $30 mil in tax cuts. Slam dunk that one.)


The first three years of Big Bill's tenure have been marked by legislative success. But building pre-session support seems to have been more smooth this time, and after some personal hits in the fourth quarter of 05,' he appears to have regained momentum. However, he continues to annoy portions of the electorate with non-stop PR stunts, a self-admitted inability to focus for long on any given subject, and a propensity for fundraising that leaves multiple conflict-of-interest questions in its wake.

The usual suspects are ready to take him on in public. Dem Senator Jennings, GOP Senator Carraro and R Rep Foley to name three. But they seem like lone voices in a very green forest. Senate Dem leader Michael Sanchez, the most powerful voice for Legislative independence, can be expected to make the Guv jump a few hurdles, but other Senate heavies are showing no appetite for any major election year power struggle, at least not yet. And we should note the NM Constitution gives the edge to the governor in the short budget sessions held in even-numbered years.

"A lot of us have been waiting for the Legislature to assert itself more with the Governor, but we forget that each year he is also learning to handle us better, even as we learn more about his weaknesses. And he remains popular with voters and a cinch for re-election this year. That's the real power," said an informer of the legislative branch.

We all follow politics in part because of the surprises. And there will be some, but the betting at the highest reaches of state politics is that they won't matter much. Some non-money initiatives could be left to die. But the agenda of our Enchanted Land, for better or worse, is firmly in the hands of Big Bill. And that seems to be just fine in the nose bleed sections inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico as well as in the cozy seats of power warmed by 112 solons seated on velvet cushions stuffed with cash.


It will be Big Bill's fourth State of the State speech scheduled for noon today, but more likely to get going at least half an hour later. Please join me for post-speech analysis with the ABQ Trib's Kate Nelson on KNME-TV, Channel 5 in ABQ. And we will be back here tomorrow with more in-depth coverage of that speech as well as the Legislature's opening day. (If you were out for the holiday yesterday, keep scrolling down. There's a Monday blog for you to enjoy).


My early morning Monday readers pointed out our omission of State Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert as a prominent African-American New Mexico politico. The New Mexican's Steve Terrell was first with the editing pencil. You can count on Steve when it comes to the Legislature. He has bought a brand new army cot and will sleep in the Roundhouse press room for the next thirty days.

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